SAPST is running a GIZ funded programme and amongst one of the objectives of the programme is to enhance meaningful and inclusive citizen participation in parliamentary business in line with the dictates of the Constitution. In August 2019, the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill was gazzetted and in terms of Section 141 of the Constitution, the Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services conducted public consultations to gather views on the Bill. This Bill is a product of the unbundling of the much criticised Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The Bill purports to give effect to sections 61, 248 and 249 of the Constitution. Section 61 of the Constitution speaks to the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media while sections 248 and 249 set out the establishment, composition and functions of the Zimbabwe Media Commission. The Bill also seeks to regularise the establishment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission. Once set into law, the Bill will also repeal provisions of AIPPA that deal with the Zimbabwe Media Commission and its functions.
SAPST believes that public hearings are costly and do not reach a wider audience and therefore with the support of GIZ, SAPST organised a live radio public hearing on the ZMC Bill as an alternative mechanism of conducting public hearings. The live radio public hearing was aired on Star FM on Thursday 24 October, 2019 from 9.30am to 10.30 am. Live radio public hearings are cost-effective and ensure that all citizens around the country have an opportunity to express their views freely wherever they are. The Committee chairperson Hon Prince Dubeko Sibanda (MDC-A Binga North) introduced the Bill and explained some of the critical contents of the Bill before opening the phone lines and whatsapp lines to the public to submit their contributions.
Some of the issues that were raised by callers are as follows:
- Need for the Zimbabwe Media Fund that will help media upstarts as well as bail out struggling media houses to create diversity and plurality.
- Need to repeal some sections of the Bill that criminalise journalists through arbitrary arrests
- The need for self-regulation of media houses and co-regulation with the ZMC.
- The ZMC Bill is conspicuously silent on journalists’ working conditions and there is need to be addressed.
- The Bill should call for the establishment of a National Employment Council (NEC) for journalists and peg the minimum wage for journalists.
- The commission should be independent and not report to the minister, but to Parliament.
- The commissioners should also not be appointed by the minister as it takes away their independence and should, instead, be appointed by an independent panel.
- The terms of office for commissioners should be well defined and be limited to similar periods with other commissions.
- The Bill should not empower commissioners to investigate a media violation where there is no complaint as this would be abused and used as a witch-hunt to silence critical journalism
The radio live public hearing was a success as it availed an opportunity for those who missed public hearings in their area to contribute to the Bill. Geographical coverage for radio within Zimbabwe stands at 72.8 percent and Star FM also enjoys that monopoly. Star FM radio station has a wider reach of audience as evidenced by people in different areas like Marondera, Murehwa, Bulawayo and the diaspora who managed to make calls during the live radio public hearing. The Committee Chairperson expressed gratitude to SAPST for organising this event and urged SAPST to emulate this process with other Bills to enhance participation of the public on Parliamentary business.